THE FACTS ON FATHERLESSNESS
Prepared for the Fatherhood Foundation by Bill Muehlenberg, Australian Family Association – August 2002
Fatherlessness is a growing problem in Australia and the Western world. Whether caused by divorce and broken families, or by deliberate single parenting, more and more children grow up without fathers. Indeed, 85 per cent of single parent families are fatherless families. Father absence has been shown to be a major disadvantage to the well being of children. The following is a summary of the evidence for the importance of fathers and the need for two-parent families.
One expert from Harvard medical school who has studied over 40 years of research on the question of parental absence and children’s well-being said this: “What has been shown over and over again to contribute most to the emotional development of the child is a close, warm, sustained and continuous relationship with both parents.” Or as David Blankenhorn has stated in Fatherless America: “Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation.”
Bryan Rodgers of the Australian National University has recently re-examined the Australian research. Says Rodgers: “Australian studies with adequate samples have shown parental divorce to be a risk factor for a wide range of social and psychological problems in adolescence and adulthood, including poor academic achievement, low self-esteem, psychological distress, delinquency and recidivism, substance use and abuse, sexual precocity, adult criminal offending, depression, and suicidal behaviour.” He concludes: “There is no scientific justification for disregarding the public health significance of marital dissolution in Australia, especially with respect to mental heath.” Here then is a sampling of the evidence:
Fatherlessness brings poverty
a.. In America, among families with dependent children, only 8.3 per cent of married couples were living below the poverty line, compared to 47.1 percent of female-headed households.
b.. In Australia, a recent study of 500 divorcees with children five to eight years after the separation found that four in five divorced mothers were dependent on social security after their marriages dissolved.
c.. Figures from Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban Research show that family break-up, rather than unemployment, is the main cause of the rise in poverty levels in Australia.
Fatherlessness lowers educational performance
a.. American children from intact families have a 21 per cent chance of dropping out of high school whereas children from broken families have a 46 per cent chance.
b.. American school children who became father-absent early in life generally scored significantly lower on measures of IQ and achievement tests.
c.. A study of Australian primary school children from three family types (married heterosexual couples, cohabiting heterosexual couples and homosexual couples) found that in every area of educational endeavour (language; mathematics; social studies; sport; class work, sociability and popularity; and attitudes to learning), children from married heterosexual couples performed better than the other two groups. The study concludes with these words: “Married couples seem to offer the best environment for a child ‘s social and educational development”.
Fatherlessness increases crime
a.. A British study found a direct statistical link between single parenthood and virtually every major type of crime, including mugging, violence against strangers, car theft and burglary.
b.. One American study even arrived at this startling conclusion: the proportion of single-parent households in a community predicts its rates of violent crime and burglary, but the community’s poverty level does not. Neither poverty nor race seem to account very much for the crime rate, compared to the proportion of single parent families.
c.. In Australia, a recent book noted the connection between broken families and crime. In a discussion of rising crime rates in Western Australia, the book reported that “family breakdown in the form of divorce and separation is the main cause of the crime wave”.
Fatherlessness increases drug abuse
a.. A UCLA study pointed out that inadequate family structure makes children more susceptible to drug use “as a coping mechanism to relieve depression and anxiety.”
b.. Another US study found that among the homes with strict fathers, only 18 per cent had children used alcohol or drugs at all. In contrast, among mother-dominated homes, 35 per cent had children who used drugs frequently.
c.. A New Zealand study of nearly 1000 children observed over a period of 15 years found that children who have watched their parents separate are more likely to use illegal drugs than those whose parents stay together.
Fatherlessness increase mental health problems
a.. From nations as diverse as Finland and South Africa, a number of studies have reported that anywhere from 50 to 80 per cent of psychiatric patients come from broken homes.
b.. A Canadian study of teenagers discharged from psychiatric hospitals found that only 16 per cent were living with both parents when they were admitted.
c.. A study of nearly 14,000 Dutch adolescents between the ages of 12 to 19 found that, “In general, children from one parent and stepparent families reported lower self-esteem, more symptoms of anxiety and loneliness, more depressed mood and more suicidal thoughts than children from intact families.”
Fatherlessness and family breakdown cost Australia 3.5 billion dollars per year
a.. In Australia it has been estimated that marriage breakdown costs $2.5 billion annually. Each separation is estimated to cost society some $12,000.
b.. Also, Australian industry is reported to lose production of more than $1 billion a year due to problems of family breakdown.
c.. Homelessness is also closely linked with family breakdown. A recent Australian study conducted at two Melbourne universities has found that children whose biological parents stay together are about three times less likely to become homeless than those from other family types.
Fatherlessness increases child abuse
a.. A 1994 study of 52,000 children found that those who are most at risk of being abused are those who are not living with both parents.
b.. A Finnish study of nearly 4,000 ninth-grade girls found that “stepfather-daughter incest was about 15 times as common as father-daughter incest”.
c.. In Australia, former Human Rights Commissioner Mr Brian Burdekin has reported a 500 to 600 per cent increase in sexual abuse of girls in families where the adult male was not the natural father.
Fatherlessness and Family Breakdown are the major social problems of our society
With the rise of fatherlessness Australia and the Western world has also experienced a marked rise in social problems. And the brunt of these problems have been borne by children. We owe it to our children to do better. We urgently need to address the twin problems of fatherlessness and family breakdown. Public policy must begin to address these crucial areas. Until we tackle these problems, our children and our societies will continue to suffer.